Sympathizing with Scott Frost after all these close losses

Week 8 Review: 1-4. Winner: Louisville -5.5. Losers: UCLA -1, OSU-Indiana under 59, Georgia Tech +6.5, and Northwestern +23.5 (BB).

What a cruel Saturday October 23rd ended up being. Four losses that missed the spread by a combined 10 points (4+2+1.5+2.5 in the order above). Both UCLA and Georgia Tech jumped out to two touchdown leads, Northwestern was only down 10-7 at the half and lost the wide receiver who was the basis for the pick in the opening series, and Ohio State kicked a field goal up 51-7 in the last ten minutes. Nobody wants excuses, and that’s not what this is, it’s merely context and why I remain optimistic in a bounce-back Week 9. This is a loaded slate whose only weakness is the amount of SEC West teams on bye. But big high stakes games do not automatically equate to a soft number to be exploited. So are we playing diamonds in the rough, or do we believe the headliners will reveal severe misreads of teams:

Bet 1: Rutgers -1.5 at Illinois (11:00am CT, BTN; all odds via PointsBet)

By now you should know I put a lot of stock into teams coming off of bye weeks, provided the opponent is of relatively similar quality, ie. Penn St coming off a bye versus Illinois was not playing in a game they were naturally going to be “up” for. This is a game between two successful veteran head coaches early on in difficult rebuilds. This is as much of a matchup between peers as possible, team and coach (and ironically the end of a 6-year annual crossover series that did paired the teams wisely in retrospect). Rutgers is in off the bye following their season’s low point in a lifeless 21-7 loss at Northwestern, Illinois is coming in fresh off the program’s biggest win since the 2019 win vs Wisconsin, or even further. Bielema did a wonderful job getting his team ready for PSU over, you guessed it, a bye week. Now Schiano’s squad returns the favor and they don’t need to overcome a massive talent deficit to do it.

Bet 2: Nebraska -7.5 vs Purdue (2:30pm CT, ESPN2)

The trends tell you there are only two real options in this game – Nebraska -7.5 or Purdue +240 moneyline. When Nebraska wins, it isn’t close. When it’s close, Nebraska’s opponent wins. Nebraska is coming off their first of two bye weeks after playing eight straight weeks starting in Week 0. Purdue comes in after being Wisconsin’s latest suffocation victim. It’s a higher price than you’d ideally like to pay against Purdue’s defense, but they’re clearly beat-up and on the wrong side of their season highlight at Iowa. David Bell might put up numbers, but they’ll be empty.

Bet 3: Arizona +21.5 at USC (6:00pm CT, ESPNU)

I almost wish this game was on the Pac-12 Network and I couldn’t watch it (and my cable package gets virtually everything). Instead I’ll be able to check in periodically to hopefully see the Wildcats staying within touch. USC wants this season to be over and find out who their new coach is too much to actually play to their potential, whereas, Arizona in a completely different (and worse) place as a program, sees Saturday as an opportunity to make their season upsetting, or at the least scaring, the biggest brand name in their conference. The gap in meaning between the two teams strongly favors Arizona playing it closer than they should.

Bet 4: Auburn -3 vs Ole Miss (6:00pm CT, ESPN)

Auburn’s won the last 5 in the series, all by 6+ points. UGA went in to Jordan-Hare three weeks ago and won soundly, but Ole Miss ain’t UGA. Auburn at home off a bye versus barely Top 10 team is what this program lives for. If Harsin loses games like this, he won’t be long for the conference (he might not be long anyway because of a vaccine mandate, but I digress). If Kiffin keeps letting Corral take punishment in the running game, he might not last the full 60. Bye the time this game is over, Auburn will have removed any doubt that they’re Alabama’s biggest threat in the SEC West.

Best Bet: Texas at Baylor over 61.5 (-105) (11:00am CT, ABC)

Texas has been prone to absolutely come out on fire in some of these early start B12 games (vs Texas Tech and Oklahoma, for example) so far in 2021. The way Oklahoma St completely stifled the Longhorn offense in their comeback win two weeks ago before Texas’s bye, you can be certain Sarkisian is going to come out looking to put plenty of points on the board to erase those memories. Baylor has been a nice story and may very well prevail at home, but 65 and 62 points have been scored in their last two games against West Virginia and BYU, respectively. Neither is remotely as explosive as Texas, even if BYU is better. Somebody will crack 40 points in this game, and it might still be the 3rd quarter when they do.

No need to stick your neck out on Penn St bouncing back or Harbaugh remaining unblemished in East Lansing. Avoid the tough decisions, play these games, and enjoy the marquee games knowing you didn’t need to pick them. Good luck! (18-19 ATS on the season)

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